I'm not one of those people who always says "when I was a kid...", but the last few days I've did a few times.
When I was a child, playing outside was the normal thing to do. All four seasons, yes I do know what seasons are even though I live in Florida now I didn't always, children spent most of the day outside. I remember being outside for hours. In many ways it was the norm to be outside and a treat to play inside. We were always on the go. You knew that any of the neighborhood moms would be watching out for you as you played. My house was kid central and we played there the most, but there were other houses we played at too. We just had to check in from time to time and let my mom know when we were changing venues. You wouldn't think twice to see our garage open and kids playing basketball in the driveway. Others riding bikes up and down the street. Soccer being played in the backyard or football in the front yard. We had a pond in our backyard and there were always kids walking through our yard to go ice skating, play hockey or things like that. Behind a friends' house was a huge hill and we went there to go sledding.
It was a time of fun and activity. We knew what our limits were. But, even more than that our parents knew that the other families had their eyes on us too.
It's not that way now. I'm one of the few stay at home moms in the neighborhood. My boys can play on the porch anytime they want, but they are confined to that unless I'm with them. Now it seems that the norm is to play inside and going outside is the treat. The boys were riding their bikes on the sidewalk this morning and I can't imagine leaving them out there on their own. Yes, they are 3 and 5 but that isn't the only factor. It's scary to think about all we know about the world. Although we live in a "good neighborhood" can I really trust that they won't be abducted if I let them play outside without me there? Could I trust them to go up the playground by themselves. No. What is the big difference there? I think as much as anything else there is the lack of extra eyes. There isn't a connection of mothers who are looking out not only for their own child but mine too.
This is not a dig on working mothers in the least. I soon will be one too, not for another year or so, but I plan to go back to work myself. It is the fact of life that neighborhoods are just so different now. Everyone drives in their driveway / garage, goes in their house and never comes out again. So many families have two full time parents so the only time the kids have to play is the weekends. It saddens me to see this disconnect. To know that my sons will never have as much freedom to be a child as I did. But it is reality.
So instead I have to get them involved. It's the balance that gets harder to find. Kids need to run and play and be kids. They need that physical and imaginary outlet of outdoor play. When you get them involved in sports they have the physical outlet, but it is structured. So I will continue to try to get them to the playground on a regular basis. Set up play-dates with friends and get them out as much as possible.